Skip to content

Washington, D.C. – This week, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and U.S. Congressman Tony Cárdenas (D-CA-29) introduced the Prohibiting Detention of Youth Status Offenders Act to keep more children out of detention facilities when they commit minor offenses. Every year, thousands of kids are incarcerated for “status offenses”—acts would not even be considered crimes if they were committed by an adult—like truancy, breaking curfew, or running away from home. This incarceration is allowed through the use of the “valid court order” (VCO) exception. The Prohibiting Detention of Youth Status Offenders Act would phase out and then prohibit the use of the VCO exception to prevent states from detaining youth for status offenses in favor of responses that better support youth.

“Far too many children are locked up every year for minor offenses like skipping school and running away from home. Putting our kids behind bars for these actions does nothing but introduce them to the very thing we want to steer them away from: the criminal justice system,” said Senator Casey. “With this legislation, we can change the trajectories of young lives, create safer communities, and better support young people going through a difficult time.”

“Growing up in Pacoima, I’ve seen firsthand how overincarceration and unnecessary confinement have wrecked the lives of young people” said Congressman Cárdenas. “That's why I am proud to partner with Senator Casey to introduce the Prohibiting Detention of Youth Status Offenders Act, which would prohibit states from detaining young people for acts that, if they were an adult, would not be considered crimes. These cases disproportionately impact our nation's youth of color, who deserve equal opportunity to thrive. We must always strive to better support our youth by uplifting them – and not treat them like criminals.”

 In 1980, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act was amended to allow judges to issue detention orders in status offense cases if the offense violated a valid court order from the judge. Since this amendment, the VCO exception has been used to institutionalize thousands of children each year. This exception has had a disproportionate impact on young people of color, who comprise a higher rate of petitioned status offenses case relative to their population size. Senator Casey and Congressman Cárdenas have been long-time champions of closing the VCO loophole, and were able to secure provisions in the 2018 juvenile justice reauthorization that, among other things, limited the time that a status offender could be held in a secure facility to only seven days. The Prohibiting Detention of Youth Status Offenders Act would finally close this loophole for good and work to reverse the impact this exception has inflicted. Further, this bill would help root out some of the conditions that led to the “Kids for Cash” scandal in Pennsylvania.

In addition to being co-sponsored by Senator Casey and Congressman Cárdenas, the bill is endorsed by Act4JJ, Association for Children’s Residential & Community Services (ACRC), Coalition for Juvenile Justice, and Juvenile Law Center.

Learn more about the Prohibiting Detention of Youth Status Offenders Act here.